Virtual Literacy Support During the Pandemic: O&E Incentive Grant Award Winner Dr. Jackie Eunjung Relyea

In 2020, the Office of Outreach and Engagement awarded three incentive grants to connect NC State faculty to applied scholarship opportunities in communities. The Outreach and Engagement Incentive Grants Program serves to address significant community challenges by aligning interdisciplinary faculty, their expertise, their students, and their research. Here, we profile one of the 2020 Incentive Grant Awardees.

One of the unfortunate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic was the growing learning gap for young students already at a disadvantage. At one eastern Wake County school, almost 60% of students weren’t able to read at grade level by fifth grade – and that was before the pandemic. When schools had to shift to online learning in 2020, students like these were at risk for falling further behind. 

Dr. Jackie Eunjung Relyea
Dr. Dennis Davis

The Wolfpack Readers program had been an in-person literacy tutoring program for these kinds of students. It became the project of Dr. Jackie Eunjung Relyea, Dr. Dennis Davis, and their College of Education practicum course students to redesign Wolfpack Readers into a virtual program, renamed iWolfpack Readers.

“We thought it was really important to support young children to continuously provide educational opportunities and resources during school closure,” said Dr. Relyea.

The project has a dual goal of supporting students with literacy tutoring and also acting as a hands-on teaching experience for the graduate students in Dr. Relyea’s literacy practicum course at the College of Education. 

The project team received funding from O&E in 2020 to develop the iWolfpack Readers curriculum in the fall and launch the pilot in spring of 2021. In the summer of 2021, the team analyzed the usability data they had collected and started disseminating their findings. This fall, they’re revising and refining the curriculum based on feedback they received, with the hope to replicate the program in spring 2022. iWolfpack Readers may even expand to other interested school districts, dependent on funding. (Thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences program, Dr. Relyea and Dr. Davis are developing a literacy intervention framework for English language learners over four years.)

Dr. Relyea says the success of the iWolfpack Readers program is due in part to the transparency they brought to the process. From the beginning, throughout the program, and even after, the team has shared the project goals with parents and teachers and incorporated their ideas and feedback in curriculum development and implementation processes. This has also made the work more robust, says Dr. Relyea.

“Community work is all about the collaborations, and if we can share what we learn and what we’re doing, we also learn from them as well,” said Dr. Relyea. “Collaborative effort and communication is the most important thing in community engagement work.”

Dr. Relyea wants to continue this work over the next few years and says the O&E incentive grant has ignited the effort. 

“Without this O&E support, we wouldn’t have been able to make it happen especially during this crucial time. We maybe would have cancelled the intervention and tutoring work,” said Dr. Relyea. “But thanks to the funding, we were able to collaborate with outstanding graduate students and teachers and provide all the resources we have to the school and students.”

Community work is all about the collaborations, and if we can share what we learn and what we’re doing, we also learn from them as well.

Dr. Jackie Eunjung Relyea